Finding a substantial following on social media with raunchy comedic songs steeped in love, teen lust, and ironic political incorrectness when he was just 16, it wasn’t long before Bo Burnham parlayed his Internet celebrity to sold-out music comedy shows and the top of the Billboard Comedy Albums chart. His first music collection for Comedy Central Records, 2008′s Bo Fo Sho EP, rose to number three while also landing in the Billboard 200. Opportunities to act in film and TV materialized as early as 2009, though Burnham continued to work on his own material, issuing the number one comedy albums Bo Burnham and Words Words Words in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Taking his chronically self-aware, acerbic humor to another level, he starred in MTV’s Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous — about a teenager who tries to be famous instead of going to college — in 2013, the year he delivered another chart-topping comedy album, what. It reflected steadily increasing attention to things like choreography, lighting effects, and use of pre-recorded audio. After experiencing worsening on-stage panic attacks, the performer went on record saying that 2016′s Make Happy might be his last comedy special. He turned his attention instead to writing and directing his first film, the festival favorite Eighth Grade (2018). He appeared as Ryan in the Oscar-nominated dark comedy Promising Young Women in 2020 before returning with a comedy special written, performed, and shot entirely alone at home during a year of pandemic sheltering. His biggest chart success yet, the companion album to 2021′s anxious Inside, Inside (The Songs), topped the comedy chart on its way to number seven on the Billboard 200.
Born and raised in the Boston area, Burnham was on the honor roll and only 16 when, in 2006, he began posting videos to social media just so a brother away at college could watch them. The makeshift tripod might have only been a stack of books, but one forwarded link led to another, and soon Burnham’s foul and funny songs received over a million views. The Comedy Central television network and record label took notice and signed Bo to a four-album deal in 2008. That same year. they released his Bo Fo Sho EP, which featured the Internet favorite “My Whole Family (Thinks I’m Gay).” The EP peaked at number three on Billboard’s Comedy Albums chart and number 123 on the Billboard 200.
A year later, his next viral hit, “I’m Bo Yo,” was included on his comedy-chart-topping debut album, Bo Burnham. The release fared a bit better on the main album chart, too, rising to number 105. The physical version included a bonus video of his 2009 Comedy Central Presents television special. In 2010, he landed in the Top 40 with his third comedy number one, Words Words Words, taken from a performance at Times Square’s Caroline’s on Broadway. By that time, Burnham had appeared in films such as Judd Apatow’s Funny People and the indie comedy American Virgin.
In 2013, he played the title character in 12 episodes of the self-reflective MTV series Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, which premiered in May. That December, he released the stand-up special what., which was accompanied by another comedy-chart number one for Comedy Central Records. Self-funded by touring, a free release of the special garnered tens of millions of views. It was during that tour that Burnham began experiencing panic attacks that influenced the writing of his next special, 2016′s Make Happy. It was issued without a companion album. Shortly after its arrival that June, Burnham announced a likely retirement from live comedy so he could focus more on writing.
In 2018, Burnham delivered on his intentions, releasing his first film as writer/director. The critically lauded Eighth Grade starred Elsie Fisher as an anxious middle-schooler who is determined to make social connections. Among its accolades were a Writers Guild of America award for best original screenplay and an AFI Award for Movie of the Year. Following acting roles in the Oscar-nominated films The Big Sick (2017) and Promising Young Woman (2020), Burnham planned a return to the stage, reporting improved mental health. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic closed performance venues, many for over a year. During that time, Burnham wrote, composed, performed, shot, and edited his fifth special, 2021′s Inside, alone at his home in Los Angeles. Featuring 20 original songs with titles like “Look Who’s Inside Again,” “Welcome to the Internet,” and “30” — about turning 30 while in lockdown — the 90-minute Netflix special was followed quickly by the self-released album Inside (The Songs). The Grammy-nominated hit catapulted Burnham into the Billboard 200′s Top Ten upon its release in June 2021. ~ Marcy Donelson & David Jeffries